Carina Lei: Studio Art Major


“Self Portrait” by Carina Lei.

Every week, the Arts section sits down with a senior majoring in an artistic field at Macalester. This week, we spoke to studio art major and computer science minor Carina Lei, who comes from a suburb outside of Portland, Oregon.

When did you start making art?

“Cool Colors” by Carina Lei.
“Cool Colors” by Carina Lei.

I didn’t come into college thinking I was really going to do art, but art’s always been something I’ve really been passionate about. Coming into college I thought I was going to be a science major, so I took mainly science classes my freshman year. After my freshman year I completely changed my mind, and I decided to do art. It was actually really scary at first, I had never taken an art class here before, and I’d never even been in the art building before (it was the old art building too)! But I’m so glad that I’m an art major, and every semester it feels like it gets better and better.

Did you take a particular class that made you want to switch?

No, when I decided not to do science the main reason was because I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life after college, and I felt like I couldn’t really put my whole heart into doing that. I knew that I needed to be really passionate about what I do—if I’m gonna do it for the rest of my life, I might as well be in love with it. I’ve always been drawn to visual production and creativity, so I took this leap of faith into art! And I do have to say, it was really scary. But the department here is wonderful, and the students here are so great.

So what kinds of art do you focus on?

Well, Macalester has more traditional arts — painting, sculpture, drawing—but I also do a lot more digital art. I haven’t taken photography here, but I’ve always really liked taking photos. I know a lot about Photoshop and InDesign, as well as Illustrator, and I’ve done some work with building websites. I’ve done work in animation as well, and my capstone is related to photos and editing photos.

Studio Art major Carina Lei working in one of her favorite mediums, painting. Photo courtesy of Carina Lei.
Studio Art major Carina Lei working in one of her favorite mediums, painting. Photo courtesy of Carina Lei.

Do you want to talk a little about that?

Sure! My capstone is a series of photographs. They’re family photos, but my concept isn’t really about family photos. It’s sort of the idea of looking back into family photos—the process of remembering, and that personal experience. So I’m creating this—it’s not really an installation, but I’ll call it an experience, because I hope that people will actively flip through my photos. I have a bunch of them, and I’m hanging a bunch of them. I’m hoping that this physical and mental experience has people reflecting on their own memories, as well as feelings of remembering. It’s also about the transformation of how we remember, and the transformation of photography’s role in how we remember: what do photos mean, and how has that changed, as well as how we’re going to remember every moment in the future; if photography’s even going to be the way we do that.

Why the family photos?

The point of how I’m presenting my ideas is that I’m sort of this time traveller. So I’ve taken images of myself throughout my childhood, and I’ve collected a bunch of family photos from my great-grandparents and my grandparents to me now, and my immediate family. I’ve photoshopped myself into these different photos—it’s sort of the idea of when you look at these old photos, you want to think about who’s in them, even if you’re not in them. You might not remember the photos when they were taken, or what you were doing, or you might not even know the people in them. I actually physically put myself there, and I’m hoping that people will see that and reflect on their own lives, and their own memories. That also translates to the idea of what is reality, and fictional images: because nowadays when we have photoshop, and you see a digital image, you don’t even know if it’s real or not. Some of my photos, you can’t really tell that they’ve been photoshopped —that’s sort of the point, it’s a subtle difference.

Was it emotional for you to do that with pictures of your own family?

Not really. I’ve always been drawn to people, in my art and in general, understanding other people, talking to other people, hearing their stories. I think hearing other people gives me a better picture of who I am, so even in my paintings and other work I focus heavily on people. So for this project, I thought so long about what I want my capstone to be, and I had this idea of making it really personal, because I knew that I wanted it to mean something to me. And if it’s something that you care enough about, it doesn’t matter how much time it’s gonna take, I’m gonna put as much effort in it as I can, because it’s a reflection of myself—literally. It’s been really wonderful, because I’ve gotten to collect all these photos, and some of them I haven’t seen for years, or have never even seen. So it’s super fun to see myself grow up, and to see pictures of my parents when they were young, as well as my grandparents. It’s really really amazing, I often find myself laughing because some of the photos are so ridiculous—with the different time periods, and putting myself into them, sometimes it’s just funny. You can tell something’s off. You know, someone’s wearing clothes that in that time period would not have flown, “That dress is too short [laughs].”

“Self Portrait” by Carina Lei.
“Self Portrait” by Carina Lei.

Do you have any potential ideas, or goals for the future? What drew you to that program?

I think it has something to do with doing art for all these years­—I’m such a big picture person, I like to plan things out and oversee things from the tiniest detail all the way up to main goals. So the dream would be to go into producing, for—I don’t know if it’s film or television, but that’s what I’m thinking now, we’ll see. In college, it’s so easy to change your mind, but I feel like the higher up you go in education, it’s much harder. Not to say it’s not possible—but [my] direction is definitely going to be in visual production, we’ll have to see where it takes me.

How has Mac prepared you to move in that direction?

I feel like I’ve really gotten to know so many people so well. I guess that’s surprised me, because I really came into college being, you know, “I’m gonna go to school, get an education, I’m gonna get a job!” I guess what’s surprised me is how many great relationships I’ve built here, and how many wonderful people I’ve met. It makes me sad to graduate, because I have been with these people for four years, and it’s crazy to think about not seeing them every day. Especially now, with the seniors in art —we see each other all the time, so many hours a day. I feel like we’ve all gotten along so wonderfully, and I really hope that we can all stay connected even as we go our separate ways. I think through getting to know other people so well, I think it’s taught me a lot about myself, and what I want in my life, interestingly. More than what I’ve learned in classes, I think out of classes I think I’ve really learned where I want to be—not only in terms of career goals, but as a person. I think Macalester has taught me what kind of person I want to be. [Laughs.] I hope that’s not too sentimental!

Do you have any last words, phrases, words of advice?

I just really hope that everyone comes to the show! It’s May 2nd, it’s gonna be really exciting. Even if you’ve never taken an art class, I think it’s just great to go see the art; if you’re interested in art just take a class. You don’t even have to take class, just submit art to the different publications we have. I think taking an art class, you learn a lot about yourself, and I think it goes well with a lot of other classes. I feel like in some way, everyone can be an artist, and can make art.